Bronx teacher takes pride in winning Big Apple Award in a challenging year

When you walk inside Jamala Roper's classroom at P.S. 179 in Mott Haven, it doesn't take too long to realize she's passionate about her job. Her 12 students serve as co-teachers and are even provided the opportunity to create lesson plans.

"In order to really make an impact on your students, they have to understand why they're learning what they're learning," Roper said.

The 5th-grade literacy teacher is one of just 20 New York City educators to receive the prestigious Big Apple Award. Since 2012, the chancellor of schools has given the award to teachers who have gone above and beyond to inspire their students.

However, this year, as we recover from a global pandemic, Roper said the achievement is that much more meaningful.

"What I realized this year, what we had in common, every teacher globally — it was the unknown," Roper said. "It literally was the first day of being an educator." 

COVID-19 didn't discourage Roper. Instead, the challenges brought on by the pandemic empowered her, and her students, for that matter, to work even harder, she said.

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 "I feel like one of the reasons Ms. Roper deserved to win the Big Apple Award is because apart from helping us overcome things that we had struggled with for many years, she's also helped us open our mindset to new possibilities," student Vanessa Medina told FOX 5 NY.

After all, education was instilled in Roper from the very get-go. Her mother is a retired principal and her father is a retired college professor.

"Teaching was never an after-thought," Roper said. "I just knew, from a child, that I wanted to teach and impact lives." 

Today, she's paving the way for the next generation of learners.

As part of her big win, Roper will become a member of the Chancellor's Teacher Advisory Council for the upcoming school year. She said she'd like to see more elementary schools implement a curriculum aimed toward tackling social injustice.

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